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The Beauty of Barrett Lauer

Part of DC Beer’s mission is to shine a light on those who have built the local craft beer scene to what it is today. One of the leaders is Barrett Lauer, Head Brewer at the District ChopHouse

We spoke to three of Barrett’s former assistants who are now skilled brewers on their own paths. We asked them several questions: When did you work with Barrett? What was the best thing Barrett taught you? What was your favorite beer to brew with or for Barrett? What was the best part of working at the ChopHouse? What lasting advise has Barrett gifted you that carries on today?

We found their thoughts enjoyable and we hope you’ll find the same.

Barrett Lauer: Brewing Leader

Barrett Lauer
Barrett Lauer, head brewer at District ChopHouse. Photo: Yours For Good Fermentables.com

Leon Harris, Brewer, Port City Brewing Company

I worked with Barrett Lauer as his assistant back in 2012. I remember coming to talk to him roughly 6 months before working with him, telling him how much I enjoyed his beers and that I had heard about the internship he was running.

When Barrett sent the email out to the candidates asking for their resumes, I was so excited and sent it in 10 minutes after I got the email. Barrett was the first person to teach me about craft beer. I jokingly call him my “beer dad.”

There was a time at lunch I asked him point-blank, after a rather bad day, if I was cut out to do this. The best thing Barrett ever taught me is that if I continued to apply myself, read over the SOPs and came in with a good attitude, I would have no problem making great beer. That’s stuck with me my entire career and I’m truly appreciative of him telling me that.

My favorite beer I got to make with Barrett was Inverted Jenny, a double IPA, and the Oktoberfest beers. Really solid beers that were easy drinking but will creep up on you if you’re not careful. 

ChopHouse will always have a special place in my heart. Chop took a chance on a guy who was just an avid homebrewer who thought he knew about beer. Come to realize, I didn’t know anything! If it wasn’t for Barrett’s guidance and patience, I doubt I would have made it this far in the brewing industry.

Chop also gave me the opportunity to network with other brewers I look up to like Kristi Griner (Beltway Brewing Company), Kevin Blodger (Union Brewing Company), Adrien Widman (Ocelot Brewing Company) just to name a few.

I think Barrett’s lasting words that resonate with me today are to keep pushing even when it gets hard. I wanted to quit a few times working at Chop just because I didn’t want to continue making extra work for him because of me.

Barrett gave me the confidence to keep pushing and achieving and pursuing goals that I had set for myself. He took a chance on me and I hope I made him proud.

Rob Fink, Lead Brewer, Jailbreak Brewing Company

I worked with Barrett Lauer from February 2015 until July 2016. My first official day was also Leon’s last official day, and he graciously walked me through a double brew of Barrett’s inimitable Nut Brown Ale. Interestingly enough, the evening before had dumped over two feet of snow on D.C., and I felt very lucky that I made it to work on time!

Besides being the lovely, beautiful soul that he is, Barrett also taught me the foundational skills necessary to brew on a commercial scale. More importantly, Barrett taught me to constantly question the legitimacy of that foundation, to the extent that I would often find the pursuit of my intellectual and practical curiosities further substantiating the very foundation he had built for me.

I had the fortunate opportunity to brew a wide variety of beers at the Chop, including my own recipes, but the beer that was a favorite brewing experience of mine had to have been Ellie’s Saison. Barrett brews it every year in honor of one his daughters, Ellie.

Both in his work world and in his life, generally speaking, Barrett’s devotion to his family is both unparalleled and exemplary. After spending even a short amount of time around his family in a non-work setting, I struggle, quite immensely, to ponder the possibility of someone else being better at it than Barrett. That being said, the brew days of Ellie’s Saison were the first time I had ever seen a partial sour mash.

The day before the actual brew day, we mashed in 20% of the total grist and let it steep in the mash tun until the next morning, thereby creating a homegrown form of acidulated malt. 24 hours later, we mashed in the remainder of the beer, eschewing the need for lactic or phosphoric acid to acidify the mash into the proper pH range, as the partial sour mash had already taken care of that.

Not only did the partial sour mash naturally adjust our pH, but it also contributed a unique tartness which ultimately proved to be an indispensable component of the beer’s overall flavor profile. The resultant beer was a tremendous American expression of the Belgian Saison tradition.

Without question, the best part of working at the ChopHouse was simply being surrounded by Barrett every day. Yes, we made some great beer, but being in the constant midst of such profound humility forced a necessary reckoning with my own vulnerabilities.

I now try to approach both my professional and personal life with a particular, heightened moral thoroughness, due in great part to what Barrett bestowed upon me. There will never be a continuum of time long enough to properly extol the virtues which Barrett Lauer so meticulously curates.

Erich Strechfuss, Head Brewer, Christian Moerlein Brewing Company, Cincinnati, OH

I worked with Barrett Lauer from 2016-18. He’s as good a person and as good a brewer as they come. I was coming into ChopHouse just as Rob Fink was leaving, and I drank a lot of the hazy pale ale he and Barrett brewed. I also drank a lot of Inverted Jenny when it came out in the spring.

A cool thing about that beer and that brewery is Barrett’s willingness to experiment. Inverted Jenny wasn’t always a hazy double IPA, but when tastes change, you have to evolve. 

Barrett is a great mentor and a great friend. He gave me so much advice for the brewhouse and for life from being organized and how to treat your space and equipment, to how to treat people. Working in a restaurant you encounter a lot of personalities. Barrett worked well with all of them.

The folks there are lucky to work with him. You can’t help but love the guy.

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